This is the message I preached at sunrise service, Sunday April 1, at Hanks Chapel United Church of Christ in Pittsboro, NC. I hope to share my Easter sermon for the full regular Easter service tomorrow. If you find yourself in or near Pittsboro, please join us! Hanks Chapel has Sunday school at 9 AM, with worship beginning at 10 AM, and is located at 190 Hanks Chapel Loop, Pittsboro, NC.
Allelujah! Christ is risen! This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
As we rise with the sun this Easter morning, gathered outside, with the church graveyard in view, we remember how the first disciples became believers, Christians, by gathering among the graves that first Easter morning. These first believers did not come to Easter morning as we often do, full of joy, hope, gratitude, and celebration. They came carrying weight on their shoulders as heavy as the rock which Scriptures tells us had been rolled in front of Jesus’ tomb at the end of Good Friday, a rock too heavy for one person alone to carry. They came carrying boulders of grief, guilt, shame, failure, and despair. Though the sun was rising over their horizon, their lives were shrouded in utter darkness.
What boulders lay on your shoulders this morning?
The earliest written record of Easter comes to us in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15, where he writes:
“Brothers and sisters, I want to call your attention to the good news that I preached to you, which you also received and in which you stand. 2 You are being saved through it if you hold on to the message I preached to you, unless somehow you believed it for nothing. 3 I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, 4 he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scriptures. 5 He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve, 6 and then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at once—most of them are still alive to this day, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me, as if I were born at the wrong time… ”
Paul’s words make it clear that the Easter miracle which these first few believers witnessed – seeing the tomb stone rolled away, witnessing that it had been emptied, hearing the words of the angels, meeting Jesus alive beyond all hope, and, just as importantly, hearing Jesus promise forgiveness, peace, and the Spirit – those promises which lifted the boulders they had been carrying off from their shoulders and let them know they need never carry them alone again – Paul lets us know that this Easter miracle was not just for those who first saw it.
Paul lists not just those there that first Easter sunrise, but also those in an ever-widening group of people who encounter Jesus risen from the dead, setting them free, for days and weeks and months after Easter morning, a group that even includes him – who met Jesus years upon years after the first Easter.
This lets us know that each of us are invited to experience Easter for ourselves, to encounter the risen Christ afresh, to hear his promise of forgiveness, peace, and the indwelling Spirit he gives which can lift off our shoulders whatever boulders we carry. Jesus not only rolls the stone away and comes out of his own tomb but, by the power of Easter resurrection, offers to roll away every stone that keeps us trapped, too, holding us back from living fully the new life we are called to walk in, if we will just leave to the tombs of our pasts behind.”
Let us take Christ’s hand, as he leads us out of whatever tombs have held us captive, into the bright future he has made for us! Amen.